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The Bush Clinic: The Tribal Wars, #1
The Bush Clinic: The Tribal Wars, #1
The Bush Clinic: The Tribal Wars, #1
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The Bush Clinic: The Tribal Wars, #1

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Sept. 8/22:  New Release THE BUSH CLINIC lands on AMS free ebooks at:

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On Dolvia, Lt. Mike Shaw demands Dr. Greensboro's doctoring skills at the hospital, forcing the closure of her bush clinic. She witnesses forced labor, forced migration, and the threat of an epidemic from bad water. She sees how tribal women–often wearing burkas–find solutions for saving the children in a conflict zone, and she commits to the their cause for Home Rule.


Brianna Miller is an isolated girl–a mixed-blood orphan–among the Dolviet tribes. With the lessons from Dr. Greensboro, the abuse from soldiers, the sisterhood among victims, Brianna prepares for a future she will choose for herself. But first she must travel offworld.

Erscheinungsdatum16. Aug. 2022
The Bush Clinic: The Tribal Wars, #1
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    The Bush Clinic - Stella Atrium


    from Dr. Edna Edwina Greensboro

    The white sky over Mekucoo land is so different from the golden savannah, Hakulupe Le said as we walked together in the humid afternoon. This local medical work slowed my research. I was looking for an exit, any excuse to call the duty complete. I had a lorry full of supplies waiting for the drive to my bush clinic.

    We skirted the empty refugee camp. The stench was nauseating; not of death since morgue crews had passed this way, but of human and animal offal. Black insects buzzed near tent poles in the haze of heat. I saw discarded gallon containers of molded plastic, mismatched hemp-soled shoes, and damaged guns.

    We saw him sitting on a stump by the road. Perhaps age fourteen, he wore ripped dungarees and a ragged tunic. Deep-set eyes watched us while he shooed insects by swishing a makeshift grass fan over a long gash on his leg. A sheen of sweat made his dark skin glisten. A karkar waited nearby; boy soldiers were never without their automatics even when ammunition was scarce.

    Hakulupe Le approached him speaking in his dialect. She was age twenty, hair coiled at her neck and a linen skirt hanging to her ankles. I caught a few words of their exchange. She turned back, fixing me with forest-green eyes.

    Dr. Greensboro, can you look at his wound?

    He should come with us to the hospital.

    He must wait.

    He cannot stay here. He’ll be dead in two days.

    Hakulupe Le came back to me. His name is Karlyhi. His mother sat him here to wait until she returns. So he waits.

    I took a disposable camera from my backpack and clicked Karlyhi’s photo before he could object. The square print rolled from the camera’s front. Leave this photo with a note, I instructed. If his mother returns, which she won’t, she can find him at the hospital.

    Karlyhi frowned at the photo that Hakulupe Le showed him.

    This is Edna Edwina Greensboro, a Softcheeks doctor, she began. Then I lost her meaning in the stream of strange words.

    While Hakulupe Le talked, Karlyhi considered me. His steady gaze caused me to take stock. My jacket and skirt were caked with road dirt. My canvas shoes had lost their shape from the needed walking. Wisps of sandy hair had come loose from the binding cord.

    Karlyhi calmly shook his head in the negative. Against my will, I admired his resolve. I took an energy bar from my pack, broke it in half, and bit into one section. I extended the other part to Karlyhi. His expression changed, but he saw my smile and looked away.

    I gave the food to Hakulupe Le. Karlyhi accepted it from her hand.

    He glanced over my backpack while he chewed and looked at the photo. He would make his own decision. He stood to place a handmade crutch under his arm, and slung the karkar over his shoulder. He held out his other hand in a curt gesture, indicating that I should give him the backpack.

    You must, Hakulupe Le said, so he saves face.

    Hakulupe Le scribbled a note and fastened it with the photo onto the stump that had been his station. We walked past him for several yards. With determined strength, Karlyhi hobbled behind us. I was glad my backpack held only the day’s necessities and was not a burden for him.

    We heard sounds ahead, shouted commands and vehicle engines. We rounded a corner and came upon the remains site, older than the deserted camp. All Siibabean males, the grouping of bodies spoke to a massacre. It appeared that they had been made to stand on the rim of a pit and were eliminated by a barrage of automatic gunfire.

    Investigators from the Westend Consortium of Planets had fashioned a matrix of sorts, partitioning the area with thin wood slats and string. They wore surgical masks, and their arms and hands were covered against the stench and filth. A lieutenant spoke into the low-fic of his headgear and directed a backhoe operator where to dig among the decomposing bodies.

    Acrylic remains cases were stacked nearby. Only three had been filled by the backhoe’s robotic arm. The driver of the anchored machine, seated in an enclosed cockpit, measured a certain length of grave material, slicing through the jumbled mass like a cookie cutter to lift and gently drop that section into the amber-colored container.

    Karlyhi spat into the dirt. He hobbled back to the road where he stoically waited.

    Dr. Leslie Abercrombie approached, removing his surgical mask and gloves. We had served a race-diversity residency in the same hospital at Two Forks on Cicero. He had pushed his idea of combining grant funds with mine to better serve the tribes, and had disembarked in a cycle ahead of me. I recently had spent the rainy season serving on his hospital staff and, when the billabongs finally receded, I opened my own clinic in the foothills of Mekucoo land.

    You’re late, he told me. You have thrown us completely off schedule.

    Nobody cares about your schedule, Leslie.

    You can walk back to the hospital, he said. You wouldn’t last twenty minutes on the open savannah.

    I stuck out my chin; an unattractive gesture, or so I had been told. I could make it.

    You’re too valuable for—

    Yeah, yeah, I said. What did you find?

    Dr. Abercrombie paused, leaning slightly forward with one hand on his hip. An impossible situation, he said in quieter tones. When news spreads about this massacre site, the Siibabean will mount a new offensive. Your bush clinic is not safe.

    I decide when my work is in jeopardy.

    You cannot just—

    Will you stop? You manage the hospital. I run the clinic.

    Look, Edna—

    I’m Dr. Greensboro. In front of all these, I’m a doctor. Equal to you.

    You just called me Leslie!

    I stared into his face, a gesture Hakulupe Le had called evil-eye. Dr. Abercrombie looked around at the questioning faces of tribesmen and technicians. Hakulupe Le stared at the ground. Well, then. I must remain here to make a record, he said, and notify the local authorities. You can grab a ride on the airbus.

    The airbus was a new addition to the savannah’s travel options, imported with Consortium funds. A cushion of forced air levitated the wide-bodied chamber eighteen inches off the ground. Only four of the original seven were still in service. Their engines ran hot while the swirling dust clogged their moving parts. Three airbuses were abandoned metal frames left on the red desert providing shade for snakes and pincher scarabs.

    In the cooler and grassy Mekucoo region leading to a low mesa where the hospital was established, the sectioned buses were still in service. The rear flatbed was crowded with starving stragglers. I climbed into the air-conditioned patient section behind the cab, signaling for Hakulupe Le and Karlyhi to join me. The Consortium driver stared hard at the boy’s karkar while I pulled the heavy door closed.

    The airbus powered up. Soon we were gliding over uneven terrain. Seated across from me, Hakulupe Le and Karlyhi were silent. Hakulupe Le was from the olive-skinned Arrivi tribe, serving as nurse and interpreter at my clinic. She was ostracized by the Arrivi, a shame they called goulep, but I had not yet learned her true history. Her special gift was to easily pick up languages. She was indispensable to me, and a good friend.

    I had heard old stories told in chants across family campfires outside my clinic entrance. Each telling was different. Certain heroes grew in stature whenever tribespeople steeled themselves for some impending fight. One short tale was about the ghost Spindel who wandered the savannah as a giant ketiwhelp. I had heard chants about the Mekucoo warrior Cyrus who rivaled legends of Oria for bravery. I had asked which were real and how much was embellished, but Hakulupe Le only shrugged. Who can see with the eyes of Dolvia? she said.

    Tell Karlyhi I’ll look at his leg now, I instructed.

    While Hakulupe Le explained in his dialect, I prepared an anesthetic wash and searched through the drawers for an abrasion maser. Karlyhi braced himself and stared as I placed his foot in a hospital bucket and poured the wash along his wound. The liquid bubbled with a white froth and ran into the bucket, turning yellow and gelatinous.

    I held up the elegant maser, shaped like a stun gun with a row of indicator lights near the concave head. This will make him slightly nauseated. A current runs through his body.

    Hakulupe Le spoke a few words in his dialect. Karlyhi’s eyes skirted left and then right, but he made no protest. I passed the maser over his wound and watched the flesh pull together to form a healing pink shape.

    Tell him to favor it for a few days. I can look at the mark again tomorrow.

    She nodded and they both stared. Modern medicine held the allure of magic for them.

    Situated on a low bluff overlooking the parched savannah, the hospital was a three-story red brick building with wide hallways that allowed a breeze. The airbus stopped in front. An orderly approached the crowded flatbed to direct new arrivals.

    Keep Karlyhi apart from the others, I directed Hakulupe Le as we stepped down.

    The orderly stuck his head into the patient chamber, showing a bloated and ruddy face. What were they doing in there?

    He’s a patient, I said. That’s a patient chamber.

    Which pieces did you use? I’ll need to sterilize everything.

    So I should leave him bleeding on the side of the road to save you some work?

    You cannot just—

    Oh, get off it, Reggie, I said.

    We guided Karlyhi around the building’s side to the employee entrance. In the supply room, Hakulupe Le instructed Karlyhi to bathe, find something to eat, and get a good night’s sleep. She explained that we would travel to my clinic at dawn, and added that he was responsible to me now. Karlyhi said nothing, but the next morning he waited by the lorry loaded with my supplies. He still carried the black karkar.

    For the occasional drive from my clinic, I preferred the diesel-powered lorry. My thinking was that when the engine broke down, tribesmen could figure a quick fix. Most Dolviet machines were unreliable Consortium issue or scrounged Chinese-made army surplus quality, vehicles included. Only the hospital wards and Dr. Abercrombie’s branch offices had computers and high-tech surgical equipment. At the bush clinic, I maintained a low-tech presence in all concerns except research.

    We left early to make the most of the cool morning hours. I drove the lorry with Hakulupe Le at my side and Karlyhi seated on the canvas top. The gears were grinding as we drove up the steep grade. A winding road led around the many knolls of Mekucoo land. Long grass flopped left and then right in the unruly wind, a metaphor for the struggle to maintain my clinic. I rolled my shoulders against the tension.

    Once we were on higher ground, a steady twenty-mile-an-hour wind troubled the canvas cover of the truck bed. We stopped and Karlyhi crowded into the cab with us. Trees bowed their heads and snapped back, and their branches swung as if cheering at a sporting event. When wind gusts pushed us onto the shoulder of the road, I glanced out the side window at the danger.

    Hakulupe Le was sanguine. We have many windy days before the rainy season begins in earnest. A blessing of Dolvia.

    By the time we were stopped by Consortium soldiers, I was ready to stretch my back. The officer who approached our vehicle stood in a wide stance against the blowing wind, a chinstrap securing his hat. He looked over my travel papers, holding them tight in a meaty hand.

    Edna Edwina? Did your parents stutter?

    I was accustomed to jibes about my name, but this lieutenant irritated me more than most. A burly Hardhand from Cicero, the closest inhabited planet, he had dark eyes and dark hair. I was certain he smoked kari root and forced native women for sport. His men pulled Karlyhi out of the cab and confiscated the karkar.

    You have a orphan soldier, the officer accused.

    My assistant.

    Where are his papers?

    I shrugged slightly without meeting his look. What’s one tribal kid, more or less?

    Did you issue him this gun?

    Lieutenant Shaw, another soldier called, pointing at the hillcrest where Siibabean tribesmen stood in a long line silhouetted against the white sky. Siibabean were easily identified by large headdresses made of black Murmurey feathers forming a mock halo from shoulder to shoulder. The winds seemed calm at their position, maybe an illusion caused by distance.

    You’ll have the pleasure of our company at your clinic, I’m afraid, Lt. Shaw said.

    I won’t be cover for your reconnoiter.

    Stop me, he said with a dark smile.

    They pulled an open jeep in front of the lorry, and their two trucks fell in behind. Karlyhi scrambled to his high seat, still favoring his raw leg. We completed the long drive without incident.

    My clinic was an adobe and thatch building with a secure storeroom, set back from the slope and less exposed to gusting winds. The grant funds had seemed generous when I first committed to this project. But as Dr. Abercrombie explained, the costs to ship equipment through a region with no infrastructure had forced some difficult choices concerning comfort. There was fresh water, however, and edible local produce, grains and olives mostly. We had excellent herbs for tea and fresh erriv meat for strength.

    Usually I treated patients on the verandah while family members watched. Laundry was on the left, the fire and kettle shaded by the spreading catalpa tree. The remnants of tribal campfires, individual and communal, littered the yard. Traveling family groups sometimes rested overnight before the long trek back to their erriv herds.

    The military trucks pulled around back. I stopped the lorry at the entrance. Many tribespeople waited, but they were not desperate and crowding like in the refugee camps.

    Hakulupe Le greeted the women with reassurances that I would see patients the following morning. She spoke to Karlyhi concerning the laying-in of supplies. Two tribesmen joined Karlyhi and, surprisingly, took his instructions for the unloading.

    Lieutenant Shaw and two soldiers came around the building. The women backed away. We will camp behind, he said to me. We can throw up a perimeter. My detail will be gone by morning.

    There’s a stream down the way.

    We saw it. He curtly nodded to Hakulupe Le and joined his men.

    Inside the clinic were three patient cots and a desk from where I dispensed medication. On the side and behind a decorated Chinese screen were a closet and bed as well as a table and a small stove. My servants had laid out a formal Arrivi tea there.

    My research room was in the back, a twelve-by-twelve sterile space lined with Cicero acrylic, light and cheap. A generator kept the room cool and well lit. My test equipment and monitors were Earth-engineered and manufactured in Westend, but certain pieces had been imported through the wormhole.

    I stepped behind the screen that was a gift from Leslie Abercrombie, something he had scrounged from a Company fire sale. I removed my jacket and billed hat. I soaked a cloth in a gourd of water that hung from a spike, and used it to refresh my face and arms. My blouse was soaked through. I put on a fresh one from the closet and peeked around the screen.

    Hakulupe Le waited near the cots. Please join me at the table, I murmured.

    She held a palm high in the greeting of her tribe and came around the screen. She poured tea and waited. I must be the first to taste the dried fish on salty flatbread. I sat at the table and tried to look appreciative concerning the tea service. After I took a bite, Hakulupe Le also sat, and she sliced some fruit that we shared.

    Lupe, do you know those soldiers?

    Lieutenant Shaw trains Dolviet recruits. A man of some restraint. In their culture, her phrase meant sexual restraint.

    You don’t mind if I don’t believe you.

    My words are not law, she whispered. I saw a flash of those green-green eyes.

    I can see patients for an hour or so if you will select them, I said.

    She made the motions to end our tea and return to work. After a while, I quickly added. After you have rested.

    We sat all day in the lorry. The activity will do me good.

    I opened each of the French-style windows beside the empty cots and looked out at the misty sunset. I was glad to be home. My clinic was less than one season established but I felt I was home within my function, in my correct place.

    My servants entered and bustled about with importance. I put on a smock and plastic gloves before I stepped out onto the verandah where tribal women with sick children stood in a line. It overwhelmed me sometimes, the degree of their need, the endless stream. But just then the service felt righteous, the way I had imagined the work while I was still in medical school.

    In the refugee camps, parasites and complications from malnutrition had been foremost until the outbreak of typhus. Some wounded tribesmen—mostly warriors from roadside ambushes—were brought to me in a rush but were beyond help. Here in the rural outback broken bones, snakebite, virulent infection, and hemorrhoids were the daily fare. I set bones, inoculated children, and advised mothers concerning hygiene and thoroughly cooked food.

    It was deep night when I returned to my private place. My servants had set out water and clean clothes. I lay back on the bed and was instantly asleep.

    Usually I rose at dawn, but that morning I overslept. I pulled on clean clothes and followed my nose to the still-warm tea left at a native campfire. I sat by the fire and yawned over a steaming mug. My Putuki servants were doing laundry while Hakulupe Le counseled some newly arrived patients.

    True to Lieutenant Shaw’s word, the soldiers were gone. I knew without investigating because the tribespeople were relaxed and friendly. Children gathered around me with shy smiles and offered gifts of glassy stones and spring slugs. I pretended to play their game, a native version of ball and jacks, tickling one toddler who giggled and squirmed.

    Karlyhi stepped onto the roadway and cleared his throat. He was carrying the karkar again, returned to him or re-stolen. I knew male gestures well enough. I nodded to Hakulupe Le before I followed him up the way a piece. Two Mekucoo warriors waited in a stand of ferns. Mekucoo were lean and brown, and stoic in the presence of foreign women. Their weapon barrels were caked with concealing mud, a precaution taken when danger lurked.

    One spoke in Arrivi, the only dialect I had mastered. The soldiers attached to you will remain how many days?

    They are not assigned. I assume a sweep of the area.

    What armaments?

    I shrugged. Karlyhi made several gestures indicating the inventory of their ordnance. Of course, I thought, the good boy soldier.

    Can you keep the soldiers at the clinic? the Mekucoo asked. I shook my head no.

    They curtly nodded and turned to melt into the bush. Karlyhi followed a few steps. One warrior showed him a resistant gesture and spoke in his dialect. He was not to join their work.

    Karlyhi shot an angry glance my way, but I only chuckled. I returned to the clinic with the sure knowledge that, however sourly, Karlyhi would remain in my service.

    His tribe was the Cylahi, landless poor who got by with day work plus some artisan skills. The men gained status through militia service. Karlyhi must have hated the idea of clinic work while others died fighting the Siibabean and were lauded in tribal chants.

    We fell into a daily routine. Karlyhi took over some of Hakulupe Le’s burden and installed insect traps that were our line of defense against the threat of dengue fever and river blindness. Tribal men were seen more frequently at the clinic. Where once they lost face by entering the women’s camp, now they could stand in groups and talk with this boy soldier. We learned about the movements of tribal factions, of nearby conflicts, and of the rush of incoming patients. Karlyhi became as important to my operation as Hakulupe Le.

    And Karlyhi delighted in troubling me. I asked him to remove a salamander that had made its home in the cool earth under the clinic’s platform floor. I had stumbled over its fleshy tail the night before when it claimed the space between desk and cots. It had a wide mouth with whiskers like a catfish. The beady eyes were nearly blind, but its flesh provided enough sensory information to hunt. Salamanders tended to live in groups, or so Hakulupe Le said, meaning three more probably nested under the research room.

    He ate last night, a banded rat, Karlyhi claimed as though that made me safe. He may crawl into your bed for warmth, Sheeks-Cylom.

    My Putuki servants giggled. Hakulupe Le turned a shoulder to me. To hide her smile, I was certain. Karlyhi walked away with extra bounce in his step.

    Later at tea, Lupe explained. The salamanders wait for the rainy season. Then they will hunt in the billabongs and forget about the clinic.

    What did Karlyhi call me before?

    Sheeks is short for Softcheeks. Cylom points to a degree, between cylay and om.

    A degree of what?

    I had struggled to master their standard of measure, something about placement on a continuum between netta and om. The lesson went netta, kari, cylay, and finally om; a series of stages from desert dry to fruition of events. The four tribes used these designations for everything. Karkar was the native term for automatic weapons, by way of example. Lupe had explained that the weapon was stuck in kari and had nothing of either netta or cylay. Hence, the term karkar.

    You think of your skin as one color, Lupe said. But Karlyhi’s nickname refers to the full range of color, as though one can see deep into your body. She gently took my hand, turned it over, and touched my wrist where the blue veins ran up my arm. Karlyhi’s words are a compliment.

    I didn’t believe her.

    One hot night before the rains, Hakulupe Le and the servants came into the clinic. They opened the windows and tensely stared out. I dressed and joined them while Karlyhi distributed karkars from the storeroom. I checked the load and grabbed an extra box of shells.

    We waited, sitting between the French windows with our backs against the wall. Dolvia’s two moons, one much larger than the other, hung overhead in the clouded night sky as though winking at us. I jolted when the salamander nudged my leg with his massive head.

    The women rested their weapons against the wall. Hakulupe Le dozed a little. Karlyhi stood guard at the door. And then we heard them, the staccato trampling of feet. A tight detachment of Siibabean warriors traveled the road with their dancing quickstep, looking neither left nor right. We crouched at the windows with our weapons poised. I took Karlyhi’s place and asked him to hide in the storeroom. Many stories circulated about the scouting parties taking boy soldiers as slaves.

    A scout darkened our doorway. A circular headdress of luscious Murmurey feathers framed his plaited hair. Siibabean were tall and lean and blue-black. They had regular features with high cheekbones and perfect teeth. This one carried a decorated shield and a karkar. With a glance into the moonlit night, he learned all that was important about these women living alone and off the road. Then he saw the salamander’s sidling motions as it serenely joined me by the desk like a house pet.

    The creature lifted its head. A feathery tongue shot out with rapid motions. Moonlight reflected blue in its unblinking eyes. The staring warrior gingerly backed out of the doorway. As he sauntered off, I saw a glint of waning light on the gun barrel that Karlyhi held.

    Small prey, us, Hakulupe Le postulated. Not worth interrupting their march. What honor in killing women and docile carrion eaters?

    I instructed Karlyhi, Tomorrow cover all the guns with soot.

    But— He was proud of our firepower and had kept the many pieces in working condition. We stared each other down. I realized that a day would come when the clinic would be too small for us both.

    We stored the weapons and went back to bed, but I could not sleep. I began planning our return to Abercrombie’s hospital to wait out the rains. The bush held too many dangers for four unprotected women and a self-indulgent boy. At dawn I dressed and opened the French windows to gain a breeze before the humid day began. I pulled on a work smock, gray with many faint bloodstains, and switched on the desk lamp.

    I heard an angry whisper. Are you alone?

    Lieutenant Shaw glanced in the doorway before he looked around the yard. The Siibabean were long absent, but perhaps his men had not found the evidence.

    You endanger the clinic by returning here, I said.

    There was a slight noise, a twig breaking in the underbrush. Lt. Shaw quickly entered and grabbed my arm. He led me back between the French windows and pressed me against the wall there, all as one motion.

    What the hell? I complained. That noise is your men mucking about.

    He put a knee firmly between my legs and pressed his chest against mine. He smelled of freshly turned earth and vaguely of eucalyptus. Release me this instant! I insisted.

    Lieutenant Shaw pinned my arms behind my back and covered my mouth with a grimy hand. All the while, he stared out the window as if searching for someone. I struggled against his strength and opened my mouth to bite his finger.

    Go ahead, he whispered into my ear. It would pleasure me to hurt you back.

    I relaxed under his grip, and he removed his hand from my mouth. His dark eyes ran over my face and chest. Why don’t you do something with your hair? And why hide this body in those god-awful clothes?

    I tried to jerk away, but he tightened his hold and chuckled.

    There was a sound outside. Lt. Shaw released the safety strap on his holster. He pulled away a fraction to better see out the window in the gathering light. I saw chest hair and his pulse racing through corded neck veins. I felt his taut stomach pressed against me and the round muscle of his arm. He surrounded me with lethal intent.

    We waited a long moment until Lt. Shaw received a signal from his men concealed in the underbrush. He relaxed and released me. I brushed his tracked-in grit from my clothes. The Siibabean passed by here in the night.

    He watched each of my gestures. They may return.

    The clinic is off-limits.

    Is that from the Geneva rules of warfare? I stared at him but saw no smirk. Gather your things, he said. We can take you back to the hospital.

    I’m not going. I lifted my chin with a resolve I had not felt an hour before. Get your men out of here. Their presence puts us in danger.

    Do you always talk so much, Edna Edwina?

    Karlyhi silently showed himself at the doorway. A karkar rested across his forearm as if he was an aristocrat out hunting quail, except he was barefoot. When he had reassured himself that I was unmolested, he passed on.

    You armed him again? Lieutenant Shaw asked.

    Out here, one must select one’s danger.

    Lt. Shaw had a jarring laugh. ‘One must select one’s danger,’ he mimicked. He left when my servants entered with anxious questions.

    The hospital was a day’s trip from the clinic. The lieutenant’s men commandeered my lorry, ending the debate about remaining behind, and packed in our weapons and supplies. Hakulupe Le and the servants were helped into the back of a military truck that already held some waiting tribespeople.

    I headed for the lorry intending to drive, but Lieutenant Shaw grabbed my wrist. I quickly raised my arm with a doubled fist, pulling against his gesture, but he held me fast. My corporal will handle the lorry, he said, ignoring my angry move. You ride with me.

    Karlyhi passed us with a wide grin and shimmied onto the lorry’s canvas cover.

    Two soldiers climbed into the truck’s cab with us, crowding me against Lieutenant Shaw’s side. We drove for hours in that cramped position, and I dozed a little, lulled by the truck’s motion and my sleepless night.

    I awoke with a start, aware that I had rested against Lieutenant Shaw’s back while he leaned forward over the steering wheel. His uniform’s rough cotton concealed rounded sinew and a long backbone. I had learned more about his body that day than I cared to know. I was certain that he had imagined mine.

    The two soldiers slept, slumped together against the window. We were no longer going downhill but followed the road around the knolls that led to the hospital. Entering the savannah from the cool highlands was like going down into a basement with a furnace and no ventilation. On one curve, a vista opened over the vast flatlands still brightly lit in the late afternoon. A gray and apricot haze hung low like city smog. I knew that ultrafine dust filled the air during the dry season. I was ready for the rains to start.

    I stretched my spine and pulled the skirt hem over my knees. Lt. Shaw glanced back at me. Do you need to stop?

    Not unless you do.

    It’s best to drive straight through.

    The hospital yard was in chaos, filled with desperately wounded warriors of all tribes. Family members went from litter to litter to find loved ones. The lorry nosed its way toward the entrance where Reggie was in charge. I’m taking your supplies, he curtly claimed. Karlyhi and Lt. Shaw both faced him off. Reggie stepped back with saucer eyes.

    Hakulupe Le stepped down near where two Arrivi men waited. Tribespeople scrambled down from the truck. They each bowed slightly to her, and she held a palm high. The passengers entered the crowd to help where they could.

    Reggie called to them. Where are you going? Get back here!

    What harm, Reggie, if they distribute water and offer a kind word? I asked.

    He glanced at Lt. Shaw. There’s no time for this posturing. We have dying here.

    Then I will speak to the living first, I said.

    I turned to make my farewells with Hakulupe Le. Reggie shrugged with a big gesture and returned to his triage duties. Hakulupe Le took my hand in her intimate manner. I can return to the clinic after the rains, she said. Karlyhi may come with us now, if you want.

    I had not thought about where he should sleep. My plans had been rushed by Lt. Shaw’s gruff insistence. I glanced at Karlyhi who moved a fraction closer to Lt. Shaw.

    We have plenty of work for him here at the hospital, I said.

    Hakulupe Le nodded with humor in her eyes. I can send someone for him before the Feast of Oria. He must not neglect tradition.

    How generous.

    Dolvia has blessed you. She walked away, and the Arrivi men trailed her steps.

    Karlyhi can stay at the barracks, Lt. Shaw said.

    He has no loyalty to you.

    Would you like to learn how to drive the airbus? he asked the boy. Pleasure registered on Karlyhi’s dark and implacable face. Anything else? Lt. Shaw asked me.

    That’s quite enough, thank you. I took my case from his hand and walked into the needful crowd.

    In the hospital hallway, the crowd of wounded and crying family members made my stomach twist. Cylahi nurses moved among patients, securing bandages and offering words of comfort but no real assistance. I didn’t know their dialect. I could not direct them to the supply of antiseptic washes or demonstrate the value of butterfly sutures.

    Where is Dr. Abercrombie? I asked. The Softcheeks doctor?

    An exhausted nurse pointed right. I made my way through the crowd to the surgical theater. Under hot lights in a less-than-sterile room, two trained nurses assisted Dr. Abercrombie while he furiously labored over a dying warrior. Leslie looked up, his weary eyes over the white mask filled with resignation.

    I put on an operating gown, scrubbed in and labored at his side. Moving to a second table, I cleaned wounds and knitted together abrasions with the maser, constantly giving instructions to the nurses. Leslie bent over the serious cases, my specialty not being surgery.

    The work pulled at my heart. In the past, hospital assignments had exhilarated me. Highly engineered instruments were used to save lives and monitor stabilized life signs. Leslie’s nonintrusive microscopic surgery could remove tumors without laying open internal organs. Even with my limited knowledge of cutting, under controlled conditions I could feel confident in each lifesaving gesture based on learned procedure. It was not messy.

    But on Dolvia our training was inadequate. There were too many, and they were too mangled from the fighting. For hours we barely spoke except for instructions and calls for more supplies. Finally the stream of wounded lessened, and we could cease our work under the hot lights.

    Leslie turned to me. You need to remain here until the fighting eases.

    I can train the nurses for triage.

    Just the basics.

    So I settled in at the hospital. I had the hallways cleaned and showed Karlyhi how to whitewash them. I showed a nurse named Nellie how to inventory the supply room using a checklist on a clipboard. We ordered additional goods from Stargate Junction. I gave regular lessons about triage and surgery prep, my words translated by Reggie. Leslie and I quarreled about my open instructions on the uses of certain equipment, especially the abrasion maser. He claimed that closing an unclean wound caused more harm than good. I assured him that the nurses would not be trusted until their skill level was raised.

    I spent my little free time with Leslie’s medical books. He had a sterling collection.

    A two-story patient dorm and a staff dorm were under construction using Arrivi red sandstone bricks. A section of the patient dorm had been roofed in a hurry anticipating the rains. Arrivi men labored to finish its many rooms. A long colonnade banked an interior grassy yard where Leslie had plans for a fountain and sunny walk for convalescing patients. A facing building of similar design housed the Consortium peacekeeping detachment, including their offices and motor pool. Every hour of the day, I heard the buzz saw and the constant pounding of hammers. Workmen gruffly answered shouted orders. I pined for my quiet clinic.

    That rainy season was mostly a blur to me. Truckloads and chopper loads of wounded arrived from the northern conflict. I labored in a separate operating room, and my newly trained nurses assisted. I addressed one desperately wounded warrior after another, sometimes standing for hours under the hot lights on a floor made slippery with blood. Shrapnel, knife cuts, and the multiple wounds of automatic weapon fire. I became numb to the carnage. Remove the foreign object, stop the bleeding, clean the wound, pull the muscles together, and suture the flesh. Bring in the next one.

    One night during the hardest downpour, there was a break in the fighting. I sat at dinner with Leslie and several Softcheeks guests. They were journalists and investors who, like us, were waiting out the rains. I was tired; I remember thinking that. Leslie put his hand over mine as he related some recent incident to the smiling offworlders.

    Leslie’s hand was cool and skeletal.

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